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At-Large Candidates Responses to Questions at Adams Morgan Forum

 

What the Candidates Said at the KCA-RCNA

At-Large City Council Candidate’s forum, Thursday, March 22, 2012

Opening Statements

G. Lee Aiken (Statehood Green) said that she’s lived here since before home rule. Back then, our taxes were comparable to the federal rate. But over the last 30 years, exemptions and deductions have not changed. She said that she’s someone who thinks outside the box and would be a good council member

Mary Beatty (R) said that she has no opponent in the primary, and is here to get consideration for your vote in the fall general election. She has been an ANC commissioner in Ward 6 and on its Alcohol Beverage Control committee, involved with development, moratorium, in politics all her life and an executive with nonprofits.

Peter Shapiro (D) said that we have a broken political system, with shoes that just keep dropping. In today’s paper there was a story about campaign contribution problems. He said that he grew up in Washington, DC, lived in PG County, where he served on the County Commission, including a term as Chair, and would provide a commitment to change in the leadership of the City.

Ann Wilcox (Statehood Green) said that she was at the Wilson Building testifying today for the Hilda Mason Street naming. As longtime Statehood party member she was very proud to honor Hilda Mason. The Statehood party merged with the Green party in the 1980s, with issues like mass transit and environment added to the agenda of statehood for the District. She said that she’s lived all over the District, including in Columbia Heights and is a lawyer by training.

E. Gail Anderson Holness (D) lives in Ward One, where she is Vice President of the Ward One Democrats, has been a member of ANC 1B and its Chair, and wants to be a voice for those who aren’t listened to. She said that she’s the only Democrat not taking any corporate donations; “Chihuahuas take a lickin’, but we just keep kicking.”

Questions from the audience

Q: As an at large council member, you will have to be mindful that we are a city of halves and have-nots, how will you address serving all constituents, and help to close the gulf?

G. Lee Aiken said that she always listens to business, comes from a labor union background, and her late husband helped found the Washington Teachers Union. We need to pay attention to upgrades in taxes, for example, the seniors $100,000 limit for household income for property tax relief.

Mary Beatty intends to focus on that gap. Raising the income tax hurts the whole city. If the middle class moved out, it would stop development. It’s important to have policies like affordable housing and moving people out of poverty. Defeat Poverty DC, which she has worked with, has great ideas.

E. Gail Anderson Holness said that there are big differences in income and we need to create less of a divide. We must educate and employ people in the District – our illiteracy rate is too high. She has been a consensus builder within the Interfaith community.

Peter Shapiro said that DC has one of the greatest income divides in this country. It results from a failure of leadership. We don’t hold companies accountable enough. Good Jobs First ranks DC 51st in holding companies accountable. There has been a lack of vision and leadership around job creation in the District.

Ann Wilcox said that her client base includes demonstrators and social justice groups. She has always called out for programs that will lift us all: affordable housing, quality schools, addressing the needs of returning citizens, especially non-violent offenders.

Q: DC Councilmembers are paid a full time salary for a part time position. Would you support making the council position a full time position, without outside employment?

Mary Beatty: The ethics bill suggested no outside employment. Yes, it is a full time job, and as a councilmember you need to work for the public on a full time basis. There are ethical problems with outside employment.

E. Gail Anderson Holness: Councilmembers should be full time, Between hearings and constituent service, it’s a full time job. DC also needs term limits. Anything left out too long gets stale. You can’t stay until you die. There should be no outside employment.

Peter Shapiro: The short answer is yes, it should be full time. One thing we suffer from is conflicts of interest, and all sorts of community work that doesn’t get done. He spent a good chunk of time while in Prince Georges County out in the community, addressing community services.

Ann Wilcox: Statehood Green party candidates pledge to not take corporate contributions. When she was on the school board, she had time to go out and get necessary information in the field. She agrees that council positions should be full time.

G. Lee Aiken made an analogy to limits on earnings for Social Security recipients. We could have something similar, say, for anything over $25,000 in outside income, there would have to be a pay back. This could be accomplished by referendum.

[At this point, Denis James introduced the Reed-Cooke officers who were present: Benedicte Aubrun, Secretary; Billy Simpson, President, and T’shaye Taylor, At-Large. Later, they were joined by Vice President Maureen Gallagher.]

Q: Do you think it’s a conflict of interest for an ANC commissioner to be employed by a councilmember?

E. Gail Anderson Holness: ANC commissioners are under the Hatch Act, but not paid, so she doesn’t think there’s a conflict legally. But as far as political alignment, they shouldn’t be employed by a councilmember. If it takes legislation, she would be willing to support that.

Peter Shapiro said it was an interesting question. An issue like this would require thought… of course there’s conflict all over the place, but should it be banned? He can’t imagine how you can get past the conflicts. His gut reaction is that it should be banned.

Ann Wilcox mentioned a couple of people who are ANC commissioners and work in District government. She thinks that as long as there is full disclosure, there isn’t a problem. Sunshine is half the problem, she sees more of a problem with councilmembers working for big law firms.

G. Lee Aiken sees the possibility for conflict, but everyone needs a job. She thinks an ANC commissioner can be a good advisor to a council member. She agrees that sunshine is a good thing. Says that when she was looking for Statehood-Green candidates, she was frequently told “oh, I can’t, I work for the government”. If the Hatch Act applies to ANC, it bears looking at.

Mary Beatty wondered why we were asking that. On the face of it, she doesn’t see a conflict. As an ANC commissioner, she had another job. An ANC commissioner knows a lot about the community, could apply expertise to problems. Without knowing the details, she doesn’t see the conflict.

Q [by Denis James, KCA president): Here in Ward 1, councilmember Jim Graham employs Wilson Reynolds as his constituent services director. Wilson is also Chair of ANC 1C. The Church hotel project is inside his single member district, which leads to the question: On votes on this matter, is he representing his constituents or his boss?

E. Gail Anderson Holness: You can get another job. You’re there to produce for the community, not your boss.

Peter Shapiro: It’s not respectful to the ANC body itself. Can you imagine a council member working for the mayor? In respect to the body itself, how could it not bring on conflicts?

Ann Wilcox said that she has dealt with Mr. Reynolds through the years, and on learning he was both an ANC commissioner and employed by Graham thought “oh that’s kind of odd”.

Mary Beatty: The way you described it, it would be a clear conflict of interest.

Q: What would each of you do to advance Statehood for the District?

Peter Shapiro said that he’s been a lifelong advocate for statehood. He recently came across a photo of himself as a young guy in a Statehood T shirt. It requires an organizing strategy. The current effort to go state-by-state has not been very effective, or they’re doing it in the wrong order. He does believe that it’s not just focusing on Congress that’s important. We need to work at county/municipal level, raising awareness.

Ann Wilcox: Statehood is core to the Statehood-Green party’s message. She’s worked on it since she came to DC. There have been a number of generations of this struggle. She has been the lawyer for some of the recent demonstrators arrested. The court says that have to go to Congress. We need to lobby members and get them to see the injustice.

G. Lee Aiken: Voting Senators and Congresspersons for DC should be basic. When you have folks going up to New Hampshire and the shenanigans of those in office, it doesn’t help our cause. We only have 2/5 representation: why don’t we have an escrow account to put the other 60% in?

Mary Beatty says that she’s a huge believer in voting rights. Having a Republican on the Council might be helpful. Current councilmembers haven’t worked collaboratively with Congress. And we need to think about whether we should use taxpayer money to go to places like New Hampshire.

E. Gail Anderson Holness: Taxation without representation is a travesty. She was on the Hill with DC Vote, but didn’t get arrested. She would do everything else short of getting arrested. She was on the Hill when they put the rider on and received the super volunteer award from DC Statehood. “Whatever I can do I will, but not on taxpayer money.”

Q: How do you move people from have to have-not? What’s your position on vocational training, looking at the city as whole?

Ann Wilcox: Charter schools are important, as is providing vocational alternatives. But we need to work on getting kids to school. There should also be jobs for DC residents first, but with fewer impediments to getting the jobs.

G. Lee Aiken noted that her late husband taught at Eastern HS and she saw what he had to deal with. We have to get literacy rates up. Vocational programs are severely restricted. We also need to address practical issues. You have to have a clock, eat a decent breakfast to be “ready” for work.

Mary Beatty works with Defeat Poverty DC, which has an 8 point plan that covers these issues. Improving our schools is one of the first steps. We should encourage charters. Training of adults is also needed. Affordable housing is a huge issue, as are health and nutrition. We need a comprehensive approach.

E. Gail Anderson Holness said that she comes from a family of educators who realized that education is the way out. She was formerly at UDC, where she was instrumental in getting the community college program off the ground. That’s the way you get people off the trouble path. The literacy rate east of the river is an atrocity.

Peter Shapiro: Nothing is more urgent than finding a way to create jobs. We have an incredibly broken job training program and there’s been a stunning lack of urgency in fixing it. We should identify sectors that are most productive at growing jobs, make sure that we do what we can to grow jobs and we must make sure that the nonprofits that do job training are those that are most effective.

Q: Should BIDs be taking over government services? Should the BID act be amended to create more transparency?

G. Lee Aiken said that she hasn’t been following BIDs recently. She was involved with street vendors back in the day, when BIDs mostly seemed to just want to get rid of the vendors.

Mary Beatty said that in her ANC, they didn’t have problems with the Capitol Hill BID and they saw keeping streets clean as a good thing.

E. Gail Anderson Holness: There needs to be transparency in all levels of government. She wanted to clarify her response to the earlier question about what she’d do for statehood: she recently got a call from Stenny Hoyer and can bring that relationship to the Council. Republicans will not allow statehood.

Peter Shapiro The questions feel linked to me: there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with a BID providing services, but some are best left to government, like code enforcement. Then there’s the issue of transparency, what will they take over and will there be access to power and authority?

Ann Wilcox Obviously, we need auditing and to make sure we’re not duplicating governmental functions, we must ensure that there’s accountability. For example, Circulator buses are leaner, more limited in their routes, and cheaper to operate and ride, but we have to make sure that safety standards are being met.

Q: There’s been a history of individual council members taking control of development in their individual wards. Would you work to remove this power from councilmembers, ceding it to the Office of Planning?

Mary Beatty expressed concern with what specific problems this question addresses. We should be one City, the Office of Planning should have a say in where development occurs. But we need to recognize that development is frequently a private sector decision. Taking away any role for councilmembers would be questionable.

E. Gail Anderson Holness would take away “pay to play” by removing development from elective office holders. The ethics issues are a distraction. DC needs to get rid of anything that gives the appearance of impropriety. The Office of Planning should be in charge.

Peter Shapiro: In Maryland, the county commission was the final arbiter of development. That created a big problem around developers and elected officials, together they were a recipe for disaster. The system in the District is broken when “council courtesy” allows councilmembers too much authority. On the other hand, there would be a lack of accountability if only the Office of Planning was involved.

Ann Wilcox noted that Statehood-Green member Adam Eidinger has been very involved in the Church Hotel. She pointed out that in Ward 7 they’re quite pleased with development.

G. Lee Aiken: Too much power in one place is a recipe for disaster. Sunshine does kill germs. Development is seen very differently in Anacostia than on this side of the river. At-Large councilmembers have a better chance to see the big picture.

[At this point candidates Vincent Orange (D), the incumbent, and Sekou Biddle (D) joined the panel.]

Q: When paying utility bills, they add a modest late fee based on a percent of the bill, but with DC Water, if you’re a day late, it’s a $25 fee, does that make sense?

G. Lee Aiken: For over 40 years, there was a 10% charge on water, electric and gas under people’s council. Betty Noel has fought for years to keep rates low, perhaps water should go under the same system.

Mary Beatty said it’s another form of taxation. There needs to be oversight by the same agency for all utilities.

E. Gail Anderson Holness: There needs to be an investigation of what’s happening to bills. It’s a reason people are moving out of the District. People want to live here, but can’t afford it.

Peter Shapiro hasn’t had the experience with late charges being applied. In general, we don’t have enough strong consumer voices. That’s why he would have voted for Betty Noel. It’s healthy to have a strong consumer advocate. Utilities bring a lot of influence to the council and we need more oversight.

Vincent Orange: The Public Service Commission doesn’t come before the Council. The Council’s only function is to confirm members. Water bills come from an independent agency, which doesn’t come before the Council for oversight.

Ann Wilcox: Metro is another entity we have to keep tabs on, keep rates low, with alternative sources of energy to keep costs low. We need advocates like Betty Noel and she’s disappointed that Mendelson voted against her nomination.

Q: DC Public library has come back from the dead, with strong administration and remarkable capital improvements, but the operating budget for the library has been cut 25% in the last five years. They aren’t able to be open, which baffles the public, and impacts both literacy and internet access. Would you bring its operating budget back to what it was?

Mary Beatty: Libraries are very important. She would extend their hours and staff them. But what do you give up? She believes that through reform and better oversight we can find the money to adequately finance the libraries.

Sekou Biddle: Libraries provide a lesson about how we operate agencies. While building amazing libraries, we must benefit from them. Limited hours make it harder for families to access them.

E. Gail Anderson Holness: Libraries are important. Computers are fine but if we don’t have books, if Pepco cuts the lights, we can’t read. With books, we just need a candle. We need to find money for libraries and extend hours because they are a source of inspiration.

Peter Shapiro: Independent procurement authority was a good step, but we are missing how important libraries are to community-building. They should be a first level priority for funding.

Vincent Orange: There are funding problems now. Things were going well 5 years ago, but the Fenty administration cut everything to provide things like $450 million for the ball park.

Ann Wilcox: We can thank the Fenty administration for the new libraries. Community meetings there are an important service. Having some open on Sundays would be a benefit.

G. Lee Aiken said that she’s in favor of restoring parity in funding. Reading is fundamental. After visiting prisoners at Lorton, she discovered they had very little to read, so she organized bringing books and magazines to the prison. She’s amazed at the variety of people using computers at our libraries and believes that computer use encourages literacy.

Q: Councilmember Graham has convened a task force to review ABC regulations and policies. One member he named to the task force is a disbarred attorney. If elected, would you appoint someone like that?

Sekou Biddle: There’s a reason people get disbarred. To create and promote public trust, appointing someone like that would, without context, seem inapt.

E. Gail Anderson Holness: If the person’s acting in a legal capacity, giving advice or consulting, that would be wrong. The District has too many ethical issues now, there are too many people who would do anything to get by. She will not have to sign paper to say “I will be ethical”. No, she would not appoint someone like that.

Peter Shapiro: No. Folks in this room are unhappy because they’re not being heard. Part of his role as an at large councilmember would be to look citywide. That doesn’t mean ignore issues in individual wards, but we also don’t need to grant authority to the ward councilmember in all matters.

Vincent Orange: No, he would not. A councilmember doesn’t get to grant authority to another council member. When you’re chairing a committee, you get to set the agenda for that committee. But the majority rules.

Ann Wilcox: If he’s advising, he may be acting as lawyer, which wouldn’t be proper. We need to be careful about screening people. We need better accountability and better processes.

G. Lee Aiken: We have to look cleaner than everyone else. Why do we have so many bars and liquor stores? High density income preference because we pay very high rates for small business.

Mary Beatty: No, she would not. It’s very simple.

Q: Parking tickets: 40% of those adjudicated are thrown out, but it takes 6-10 months to adjudicate it, even longer for appeals. We’re spending money to make people upset. What sort of approach would you use to solve this problem?

E. Gail Anderson Holness says she’s the only Democrat who’s been talking about parking. She gets tickets all the time. It’s a land use problem. We need underground parking!

Peter Shapiro: This shows how agencies are not working with others. Part of his experience and what he wants to bring to the council is focusing on issues: What aspects of the system are broken? Who needs to be sitting around the table? Leadership is necessary to bring light to issues.

Vincent Orange: Speedy hearings are necessary. We should allocate resources to render timely decisions, perhaps another division within DMV. It’s outrageous that anyone has to wait 2 years on their appeal.

Ann Wilcox: Recently, redtop meters (for handicapped use) have created issues. Parking is a cash cow. She would argue for less reliance on cars and parking.

G. Lee Aiken acknowledged that she has personal feelings about the issue, having gotten towed and paid large penalties. The biggest problem for any business to get licensed is that you must sign a clean hands form, which says you don’t owe more than $100 to DC. That amount should be increased.

Mary Beatty: In the ANC, she’s dealt with parking all the time. Zip-car spaces were one of the most hotly debated items. We need more parking. And the process needs to be improved. There’s an antagonistic relationship between government and its residents which needs more politeness.

Sekou Biddle: The District is very good at finding cars to ticket. It’s also good at getting online payment. But when the city’s in error, then the process breaks down. We should have online resolution of contested tickets available.

Q: “I am ashamed of DC government. I recently learned that Jeffery Thompson has power – I thought I did.” Have you received contributions from Mr. Thompson in this election cycle? If so, will you be returning them?

Peter Shapiro: No, he has not received any.

Vincent Orange: No, he has not received any in this cycle.

Ann Wilcox: No

G. Lee Aiken: No. The Statehood/Green party doesn’t take money from corporations.

Mary Beatty: No, and this bundling problem needs to be eliminated.

Sekou Biddle: No, suddenly Thompson is not making any donations.

E. Gail Anderson Holness: No. She’s the only Democrat not taking any corporate contributions. Orange has received 26 money orders. She believes that it is pay-to-play. She mentioned the Vernon Hawkins article about shadow campaigns being run.

Closing statements

Vincent Orange: He’s the DC Democratic committee man. Is currently on the council. He was a member of the Council in 1999-2006 when we brought DC back, got AAA bond status, returned control from the Control Board. He’s embarrassed by what happened. Running on his record.

Ann Wilcox: Urges voters to look at other parties. There’s been a distortion of the system. Statehood-Green supports statehood first and progressive values. She’s a lawyer who was on the school board and the commission for women. She’s had a long history in the District and lived in many neighborhoods. There is much work to be done to bring the city to a new age.

G. Lee Aiken: 50 years experience living in the city, bringing creative thinking to the city: War memorials show how many from DC died in WWII, served, injured, what we have sacrificed and still don’t have vote.

Mary Beatty: She’s running as a Republican. She’s unopposed so she knows she’ll be on November ballot. Our charter provides 2 seats for non-majority parties, but that hasn’t really been the case recently. We’ve seen ethical problems with the Council that need changing. She’s a doer, doesn’t complain, with a great record of success in her neighborhood.

Sekou Biddle: He’s running because he’s disappointed with the government leadership in the city. We need dedicated, focused leaders. With his background in education and his demonstrated commitment to public service, he’d make a difference.

E. Gail Anderson Holness: She wants to be your voice for parking issues, education issues, employment. She is the right choice, the newest, freshest face. We need change.

Peter Shapiro: He’s running because we have a broken political system. Councilmember Orange and his finance problems are part of the problem. Says that his experience as a community leader and as a nonprofit leader make him the best choice. It’s important that all councilmembers have strong experience.

[The audience gave the candidates a round of applause as the evening ended. The meeting was adjourned at 9:41.]

–Ted Guthrie, KCA Secretary